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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Fathers want to be present too

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

WHILE the LinkedIn survey focused on women, the search for work-life balance isn't a gender specific one. Father of seven-year-old twins Kua Chong Ming realised that he too needed work-life balance after his five-year-old daughter asked him why he was "always so crumpy (grumpy)".

"They only did the survey for women? Men are parents too!" says Kua when told about the LinkedIn findings.

He relates his experience.

"I didn't realise how grumpy I was at home until my daughter pointed it out. That realisation was hard to accept. And when she said that, my wife told me that sometimes, she'd take my daughters away to give me space because she saw that I needed it. This forced me to look inwards. What was happening to me?

"I love my kids. I love playing with them as they make me laugh all the time. But there I was … unable to enjoy spending time with them. I'd be driving them for ballet feeling unhappy, needing my space. I'd wait for their class to finish thinking this was a real waste of time. It was awful and I knew something had to change. I was a father first, not just a manager at work. So … I decided to take time off from work," relates Kua, who was working as a senior product manager for a pharmaceutical firm.

It has been about six months since Kua, 35, made that decision and he has absolutely no regrets. It fact, he says, it feels like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

"My daughters are only going to turn one, two, seven or 30 only once in their lives. I want to be there for at least a part of it. I missed two kindergarten concerts, a visit to Batu Caves and God-only-knows what other milestones because of work and I can never get those back.

"I am taking this time to really look inside myself and understand my strengths and weaknesses. I am trying to find what makes me happy at work and how I can use this to benefit both myself and my employer.

"I do intend to go back to work but the challenge will always be trying not to allow work to influence how I look at things at home. We have all been taught from young that financial wealth equals success. And while that is partly true, in the pursuit of material wealth, we sometimes lose our way. It becomes insatiable. But it became important for me to ask myself if it was worth it if I was failing miserably on a personal level," says Kua. While he was a little apprehensive after he decided to leave his job, Kua says he is "happier now".

"Just because I wasn't working, it didn't mean everything came to a standstill. There were still bills to pay. Life still goes on. I did things here and there … some work for my friends and my father-in-law, but I wasn't earning as much, definitely. But I did realise that I was happier. I was spending more time with the girls, watching them as they laugh and play," he says.

Kua insists that he isn't the only father to feel this way.

"A few of my friends have done the same. I think people are starting to realise the importance of a stable, happy family. This will translate into better productivity too," he says.

Related stories:
Professional women's balancing act
Doing what works at the workplace

Raising children without raising our voices

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

This mother resolves to be more mellow and yell less at her kids.

ON New Year's Eve, my seven-year-old son Jason was playing with some foam stickers when my four-year-old daughter Shannon came along and wanted to join in the fun.

Unfortunately, he was not in a charitable mood and shooed her away brusquely.

"Go away," he said repeatedly. "But I want to play with you," she continued to plead. This alternated with: "Mummy, gor gor (elder brother) is shouting at me."

Both their voices escalated in volume.

I initially ignored their fight, hoping it would fizzle out, but it did not happen. Before I knew it, I had, unfortunately, joined in the match – breaking every rule in the parenting book, going on a tirade and eventually silencing them with a piercing glare.

My tongue-lashing went along the lines of: "Why are you both fighting so early in the morning? Is there a need to shout at mei mei (younger sister)? Why are you touching gor gor's things again?" This was all at a volume which rivalled theirs, and that irony did not escape me.

I've always thought of myself as a calm and collected person, but motherhood has changed me.

Before having children, I was seldom a yeller. Now, it is a rare day when I don't raise my voice at them. Is it them or is it me?

I marvel at parents who seem to be able to keep their cool, who can talk to their misbehaving child in a gentle yet firm tone.

I've decided that my New Year resolution is to be a more mellow mum, you know, the one who, upon hearing her children shriek at each other, can calmly tell them to stop their fight without having to raise a decibel.

In reality, I'm not sure how that would work. Would two screaming children be able to hear what their soft-spoken mum is saying?

I've realised that their fighting is the primary thing that sets me off. But it is not the only one.

There are some things which get my goat more than others. For instance, insolence or a stubborn refusal to heed instructions irk me more than, say, the children spilling a drink or taking their own sweet time to get out of the house in the morning.

Since I made the resolution, I've been more aware of when I'm yelling at them. (I haven't been very successful at not doing so yet.)

During the times when I try my hardest not to respond with a raised voice, I know they can tell my displeasure because my tone changes and I sound stern.

Parenting experts advocate a different approach to discipline, with suggestions to take a time out or use humour, affection or a firm but detached tone while disciplining.

It all sounds well and good on paper but implementation is a different matter and also dependent on my state of mind.

I've noticed my reaction is exacerbated by some factors – a lack of sleep or stress results in a lower tolerance for their conflicts.

Likewise, when I'm in a hurry to get out of the door or have to multitask, like when I'm trying to cook dinner and meet a deadline for a story, I have less patience for their antics.

Knowing the triggers is perhaps the first step towards doing something about it, and soon.

Experts have cautioned that excessive anger can be harmful to children.

Psychologist Matthew McKay, a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley and co-author of When Anger Hurts Your Kids, has said that these children end up less empathetic.

"These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families, and they perform worse in school. Anger has a way of undermining a kid's ability to adapt to the world," he added.

One way I've found helpful is to talk through my emotions, since both children are now of an age when they can mostly understand where I am coming from.

So there are times when a simple "I had to stay up late to work so please let me sleep in and don't fight with mei mei" would work with Jason.

Experts also agree that a strong parent-child bond makes discipline easier.

Another way is to pick your battles.

So while I'm willing to let them slug it out when it is a war of words, I draw the line when one starts physically hurting the other, for example.

I got a resounding yes from Jason when I told him of my resolution not to raise my voice at them (so often).

But when I added that he and Shannon would have to do their part not to push my buttons, his reply was near inaudible.

Here's to a year of raising children without raising our voices. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Do your kids like your new love?

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

When children disapprove of your new flame, it may be worth taking a harder look.

THE children of single parents have the right – and maybe even the responsibility – to raise superficial objections to mum or dad's new love: he's a dork, or she's a drama queen, or it's just plain wrong to listen to Johnny Mathis on the car radio.

But kids are also keen observers of human nature, and they know their parents very, very well.

So how do you distinguish between the usual passing protest and an objection that's worth serious consideration?

"I think you should always take it seriously (when a child objects to your significant other) and stop and think about why it's so," says psychologist Leah Klungness, co-author of The Complete Single Mother: Reassuring Answers To Your Most Challenging Concerns. Kids can be good at detecting pretension or deceitfulness, Klungness says, "so if you've got your kids saying, 'Mmm ... him again? ... Not so much, not so much', of course it's your life, but don't push that conversation aside.

"The least thing that can happen if you have a real, serious, respectful conversation with your kid is you get a real insight into how they're feeling at that moment."

Klungness doesn't see a Johnny Mathis habit or a lack of panache as a red flag, but she would be concerned if a child said, "I think he's sneaky", and later followed up with, "When you were upstairs, he looked through the kitchen drawers, and he had no reason to do that" or, "He said he was going through your purse looking for gum, but then I saw he had your wallet".

Other potentially worrisome observations would include, "I heard him talking on his cellphone to Susie. Is that his sister?" or, "When I said I wanted to see his phone, he got all angry and put it in his pocket."

Among the questions you may want to ask yourself, Klungness suggests: "Has your child discerned a real clash in values?" and "Has your significant other misrepresented himself or herself?"

Sometimes the offspring who object to a new love are adults. Joan Price, author of the award-winning book, Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex, suggests that parents sit down with their adult children and ask if they really have a problem with the significant other, or if they just feel the parent is dating too soon.

"The conversation can be very different, depending on what the answer is," Price says. "And if the kids haven't even considered that (question), it's especially important, because that's also a teachable moment, where the kids can realise, 'Hey, it wouldn't matter who it was. It could be Robert Redford, and we wouldn't approve.' "

Price also recommends consulting friends.

"If your friends are also saying, 'Oh, don't move so fast,' there could be something creepy or something wrong about the person; it would be worth stepping back," Price says. "I'm not saying break up with the person, because you may know him better than your friends or your kids, but take a hard look at what they're seeing that you're not."

Among the warning signs that Price would take very seriously: asking for a commitment too fast, acting inappropriately possessive, asking for money or trying to cut you off from family and friends. Older parents often just move too fast, thinking that time is short, she says. But you can't really know someone in the first few months of a relationship because you're both on your best behaviour.

Sometimes, younger children won't tell you that they object to your boyfriend or girlfriend, says Deesha Philyaw, co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive In Two Households After Divorce.

"We have to look at body language," Philyaw says. "If the kid doesn't want to be in the person's presence, it's worth a conversation."

Philyaw says she knows of a situation in which a woman doesn't allow her fiance and his child to spend anytime alone together. The woman even attended a daddy-daughter event. The child is only four, and she expresses her frustration by crying and screaming when her mum tells her it's time to go see her dad.

If, due to a co-parenting arrangement, you only have a limited amount of time to spend with your child and your significant other is preventing parent-child alone time, that's a huge red flag, says Philyaw.

She'd also be concerned if a significant other got overly defensive about a child's objections.

"I think a reasonable adult, and the kind of adult I would like to spend my life with, would be somebody who would be sensitive to this and not be defensive even if they felt, 'This means our relationship has to slow down,' or, 'This means that we don't spend as much time together'. I'd want to be with someone who was patient with that process and sensitive with that process," she says.

"That would show me that they cared not just about me as a woman, but me as a mother as well. And with me, you can't get one without the other." – Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

AMONG the best-known examples of kids who question their parents' romantic choices, from film and literature:

> Hamlet: Prince Hamlet objects to his mother's hasty remarriage on the grounds that his new stepfather is the No. 1 suspect in his father's murder.

> The Sound Of Music: Captain von Trapp's frosty fiance plans to send his adorable kids off to boarding school, and on some level the kids just know it.

> The Parent Trap: How do you convince your divorced dad that his lovely young fiance is a shallow gold-digger? Those adorable twins have a plan.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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